Don't Get Stuck With HIV

Protect yourself from HIV during healthcare and cosmetic services

Patron observed sterile treatment for tattooing

Box 13: POST for tattooing
1. Avoid skin-piercing procedures Don’t get a tattoo. This only works for people who are willing to forego a tattoo.
2. Use new disposable instruments (a) Ask the tattooist to use new disposable needle(s) from sealed packages.(b) Ask the tattooist to use new disposable inkpots from sealed packages.

(c) Ask the tattooist to open a new bottle of ink for you (one for each color). If the tattooist does not do so, but instead pours ink from a larger bottle into your (disposable) inkpot, you may be in danger. Ink from the larger bottle may be contaminated if the tattooist had earlier poured excess ink from a client’s inkpot back into the bottle. HIV could go from client to needles to inkpot to ink bottle – and that ink could be poked into you. Ask the tattooist what he or she does with excess ink. If you believe he or she is careful, that’s your call.

3. You sterilize the instruments You can boil needles and inkpots.
4. Ask providers how they sterilize instruments Ask the tattooist to boil or autoclave hand-pieces. Vibrating hand-pieces that do not come into contact with skin may be contaminated by small bits of blood and tissue thrown into the air while tattooing. If hand-pieces are not sterilized after use, HIV and other pathogens (germs) may vibrate off them onto subsequent clients.

Additional information about tattooing

Several technologies are commonly practiced to apply tattoos. Tattoos can be applied by hand manipulation of needles to make multiple punctures in the skin. The newer technology uses a small hand-held electric machine that moves a small bundle of needles to puncture the skin.

Getting a tattoo is risky business if the provider is not careful.

Risk to get HIV from tattooing

If the tattooist reuses needles or inkpots from an HIV-positive client with no effort to clean, or uses left-over ink from an HIV-positive client, your risk to get HIV from tattooing may be estimated at greater than 10% (see Blood-borne Risks section). If the tattooist is careful with needles but reuses left-over ink, your risk may still exceed 10%.

Evidence that tattooing has infected some people with HIV

There is some evidence that tattooing transmits HIV. For example, a study in India that followed and tested adults every 3 months asked about tattoos along with other risks. Those who received a tattoo between visits were 2.4 times more likely to show up with a new HIV infection at their next visit compared to those without new tattoos.[i] A study in the US found that men who became HIV-positive in prison were 4 times more likely than other men to have received a tattoo in prison.[ii]


[i] Reynolds SJ, Risbud AR, Shepherd ME, et al. Recent herpes simplex virus type 2 infection and the risk of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 acquisition in India. J Infect Dis 2003; 187: 1513-1521.

[ii] HIV transmission among male inmates in a state prison system – Georgia, 1992-2005. MMWR 2006: 55: 421-426. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5515a1.htm (accessed 10 July 2011).

7 responses to “Patron observed sterile treatment for tattooing

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